Leroy E. Simmons, Jr., describes himself as a “military brat” who grew up in Florida, Washington and Oklahoma. Eventually, his family settled down in Lake Panasoffkee, a small town in Sumter County, FL, in 1995. After graduating from high school in 2004, he joined the U.S. Air Force and started his air traffic control career, learning the fundamentals at Keesler AFB, MS, before moving on to his first permanent-duty location at Offutt Air Force Base, NE.
His progression in the aviation industry has taken him around the world — and now, virtually, to Florida Tech, where he is earning his bachelor’s degree in aviation management 100% online while living overseas.
“The biggest fulfillment I’ve had since returning to school has been the ability to apply the knowledge from my aviation classes to my real work,” he says. “There have been several instances of having to apply knowledge from aviation safety, aviation design, and aviation research to further explain cause and effects of aviation-related materials to our younger air traffic controllers.”
“These times have proven that the education gained from Florida Tech has been valuable and not forgotten,” he says.
Tell us About Your Career Journey
My career has involved many moves, both stateside and abroad. Following my assignment to Nebraska, I returned to Mississippi, where I obtained an associate degree in aviation operations and management from the Community College of the Air Force. In my 17-year career, I’ve found myself at seven permanent-duty locations, four since joining Florida Tech’s bachelor’s program. When I started pursuing my bachelor’s degree, I obtained a second associate degree in Spanish while living in Spain. This was followed up by a move to Oklahoma, then Honduras, and now Japan. Oklahoma and Japan are the only two locations where I’ve worked in a radar approach control (RAPCON), and I worked in the tower for the other assignments.
What Made you Decide to Go Back to School?
I decided to go back to school for two reasons. The first was when my daughter, Creé, was born in January 2014. With an air traffic career to lean on, I had no intentions to continue higher education, but I wanted to set an example for my daughter to follow when she graduates high school. She needs to know that education will never stop being a part of her life if she wants to succeed, and I want my kids to be able to succeed in ways that I couldn’t.
The second reason became career-oriented. Career progression within the Air Force is largely dependent on self-improvement, and continuing education is a huge part of that. Without the pursuit of a bachelor’s, I was going to hit a roadblock at some point, so in conjunction with my first reason, it seemed like a no-brainer that school was paramount.
Why Did You Choose Florida Tech?
To be honest, I wanted to do something different from the norm. I had no intentions of going to in-residence courses, and I wanted to be tied to a school in my home state. Florida Tech’s air traffic control specialization was also very intriguing as a way to potentially bypass the FAA’s basics course. At that point, I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue to 20 years, and the FAA was an option, so I saw this as an added incentive.
How Have You Been Able to Balance School, Work, and Life?
Waiting until my first child was born wasn’t exactly the best time to restart school. I had to learn very quickly that my time, which already was not my own in the first place, was going to get even more limited. I needed to learn how to sacrifice some personal time that was originally meant for video games and golf, to be refocused on making sure I got my schoolwork done. Downtime at work helped to get a leg up on my school time, but over the years, I’ve gained much more work responsibility. This meant that I had less free time at work, and I had to re-figure out how to balance it all, but my wife has been a great support system in working it all out.
What Courses Are Your Favorites and Why?
I liked any course that dealt with aviation because I felt like I was able to contribute more to the class. My favorite course to this point was definitely Aviation Design. It was very hard, dealt with a lot of numbers (not my specialty), but gave me a lot of perspective on the intricacies that go into designing an airfield that I never knew or thought about. It felt like I was getting a “behind the scenes” look into why things are designed certain ways, as well as the demanding restrictions that go into funding, government restrictions, and the design itself.
Who Is in Your Support Network, and What Have They Done for You?
My wife is my biggest supporter. She already has a bachelor’s degree, so she understood the demanding amount of time some classes can take up. Mix that with working eight to 10 hours a day, and it can get very stressful. Luckily, she was always there to make sure I stayed focused, on track, and never gave up when having really bad days.
How Has Florida Tech (and Bisk) Supported you?
My student advisor, Arielle Click, has been very supportive since day one. Sometimes I’d have extenuating circumstances, causing me to miss a couple of semesters. She never forgot about me and was always very patient in waiting for my email responses, especially when it came to submitting my tuition assistance. If not for her, I would have missed out on many deadlines and, regardless of how busy I was at work, she was there to keep steering me in the right direction.
What Do you Hope to Do With Your Degree?
I hope that my bachelor’s degree can be the final piece to solidify my tenure as an aviation expert. If I choose not to further my air traffic control career after my time in the Air Force, then my degree plus my air traffic experience should be a good combination to land a decent job.
My long-term professional goal is to complete another 20 years within the aviation industry, preferably as a Department of Defense civilian. Maintaining that stability will feed into my personal goal of moving aside and allowing my wife to finally pursue the career that she’s had to put on hold while traveling the globe with me.
What Advice Would You Give to Someone Considering Going Back to School?
My advice would be to ease yourself into the process. One of the biggest ways for this experience to fail would be poor time management. If you take your time getting into the swing of things, then you’ll understand how to manage your time effectively and whether you’re capable of taking on more.
Furthermore, once you (re)start, do not stop. It’s understandable if a break here and there is necessary, but it can be extremely difficult to continue if you take too much time off. Stick to the grind, and you will be rewarded.
What Do You Do in Your Free Time?
I have been an avid golfer since my senior year of high school. I’ve worked diligently at my craft, getting my handicap down to a 10 and, hopefully, in the single digits by Fall 2022. I’ve also competed on an amateur golf tour in Mississippi, and I plan on continuing that journey once I retire from the military.
What’s Your Favorite Thing About Being a Florida Tech Panther?
My favorite thing about being a Florida Tech Panther is the fact that I am one. The Air Force will always have a special place in my heart, but there’s something to be said about the sense of belonging when you become a school alumnus. It gives you a sense of connection that’s distant and different from the military. I never wanted my life to be completely defined by the military, and now as a Florida Tech Panther, I’ve opened a door that only a few can say they’ve stepped through.